LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Malnutrition and Imaginary Meals in Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan

Upon looking for sources for my paper, I stumbled upon an article that talked about how hunger and malnutrition are represented in Alice in Wonderland, as a commentary on the famines of the Victorian era. According to the article, Lewis Carroll included the tiny pieces of food, about the place, to express that Alice is essentially scrounging for her meals. She is lucky to stumble upon something, but is often left looking about for more food to return her to normal. In the Victorian era, there were enormous food shortages, causing the price of food to be raised to an intolerable level. As a result, meals became hard to come by. Considering Lewis Carroll saw this occurring, and experienced it himself, he felt the need to use it as a theme in Alice in Wonderland, and seek a solution for it.
At one point, in the novel, Alice meets the caterpillar, smoking atop a giant mushroom. When leaving, he tells her that one side will make her small, and one side will make her big. Alice then attempts to regain her original size, and upon doing so, realizes the value of the mushroom. From then on, Alice stores the mushroom pieces in her apron, thinking that she can use them as needed. This mushroom is thus Carroll’s solution for Victorian society–to find food in nature.

In Peter and Wendy, the lost boys complain about having to occasionally make believe their dinners. I personally found this to be one of the most pitiable situations in the book, and I was curious as to why J. M. Barrie might have written such scenes. After reading about the high price of food in the Victorian era, I wondered if perhaps Barrie was also making a commentary about the Edwardian era, through Peter and Wendy, by expressing that, due the food shortages, little boys and girls sometimes had to imagine they had meals. The Edwardian era, however, was described as a golden age between the Victorian era and World War I, hence I am led to believe that the food shortages improved. What I did read was about a Poor Law that was implemented, which gave relief funds to unemployed women, but not to unemployed able-bodied males. As a result, if one was married to an unemployed male, one was cut off from funds, as well. Upon reading this, I wondered about the financial situation of the Davies boys, and if the imaginary meals were an idea thought up by Barrie to quell their growling stomachs, rather than that of society as a whole. Children often play make believe, when it comes to tea parties, but in Peter and Wendy there is an obvious expression that these boys are hungry, despite having nothing,

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The Secret Garden

Distant Reading of The Secret Garden

Distant Reading of The Secret Garden

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Cock-a-doodle-doo: Peter’s crowing throughout “Peter and Wendy”

Peter Pan. Now isn’t he the little charmer. Oh sorry, I meant self-satisfied, cocky jerk. While this quality of overwhelming arrogance isn’t exactly uncommon in eternal beings (looking at you Zeus!) it seems to be Peter’s defining characteristic. While reading the book I was struck by how pleased with himself Peter seems. He’s never shy to brag about his achievements; even if he’s technically taking credit for someone else’s work Peter will still crow away. And then it hit me: crowed. How many times throughout Peter and Wendy was the term “crow” or some variant of that used to show Peter exulting over his own brilliance? And was it used solely for when he is bragging?

A Peter Pan face character at Disney

The first time Peter crows occurs on page 90 just after Wendy has sewed his shadow back on. He immediately has forgotten that it was Wendy who solved his predicament. “How clever I am,’ he crowed rapturously, ‘oh, the cleverness of me!” Ignoring the fact that he sounds exactly like that kid back in elementary school who would brag about getting an A on the first multiplication test, and we all knew that kid, I think it is very interesting that the first use of this term “crowed” occurs with Peter taking credit for someone else’s actions.

On page 125 the Lost Boys hear Peter crow twice to announce his return to Neverland. While this at first seems to be a simple greeting when Peter talks to the boys a few lines later he questions why they have not cheered about his homecoming. Thus the crow was used to cue the adoration of the Lost Boys, further stoking Peter’s ego, and when it was not forthcoming Peter was piqued.

On page 144 Wendy has clearly come to understand Peter’s need to exult over his achievements because after he has tricked the pirates into releasing Tiger Lily she thinks: “…she knew that he would be elated also and very likely crow,” and she quickly covers his mouth before it can escape. It is later revealed on this page that while Peter may have wished to crow in excitement and pride over his latest victory over the pirates he instead whistles in surprise due to Captain Hook arriving. It’s interesting that Wendy, who has only known Peter for a short time, is able to recognize when he will boast so maybe we can imagine that in the time the narrator has skipped Wendy witnessed many other crowing episodes.

Soon after the last instance Peter is goaded by Captain Hook and the pirates to reveal himself as the alternate Hook. He gleefully cackles at them as they continue to “guess” his identity incorrectly until finally: “Can’t guess, can’t guess,’ crowed Peter. ‘Do you give it up?” Peter’s pride and cockiness brings him to reveal himself to Hook and the pirates, which leads to him and Wendy almost dying.

Peter Pan, you cocky jerk.

On page 155 Peter has been saved by the Never bird, who gave up her floating nest so that he wouldn’t drown. When Peter moves her eggs to a watertight hat the Never bird “screamed her admiration of him; and, alas, Peter crowed his agreement with her.”  So once again the term crowed is linked with Peter bragging about himself.

On page 197 the Lost boys and the pirates hear “a crowing sound” come from the cabin on the pirate ship. The Lost boys recognize it as Peter exulting over his latest victory of killing Jukes.

Again on page 198 they hear the crow sound after Peter kills another pirate in the cabin

On page 200 Peter has made his way from the cabin to the deck of the ship where he releases Wendy. After she is safe he took her place at the mast and then “he took a great breath and crowed.” Here he is again using the crow to announce his presence but also to brag about how he has outwitted the pirates by killing two of them and letting loose their captives right under their noses.

On page 222 Wendy says that Peter’s last words to her were “Just always be waiting for me, and then some night you will hear me crowing.” Again the crow is used as a greeting but also it shows Peter’s arrogance that Wendy should always wait for him and some night, it could be any night at all, he’ll show up again.

On page 223 Wendy, now a mother herself (for real this time), hears a crow come from the nursery where her daughter Jane is supposedly sleeping.

The final crow of the book is on page 225 when Wendy returns to the nursery to find Peter “sitting on the bedpost crowing gloriously, while Jane in her nighty was flying round the room in solemn ecstasy.” The crow has come full circle now except I believe there is a big difference between the first and last use of the term. While they both take place in the same nursery the first use is after Peter takes credit for someone else’s cleverness. The last time, in my opinion, is both an exultation over his cleverness in teaching Jane how to fly but also for Jane’s success. He is pleased with himself but also pleased to see Jane so happy to see her enjoying flying so much.

So there you have it: throughout the novel Peter was a crowing machine, it was how he bragged about his achievements and also how he would ask for recognition of his accomplishments. I like this use of crow because while it does capture the image of Peter laughing or screaming uproariously over his cleverness it also hearkens back to Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens when Peter was just a baby who used to be a bird.

Please click HERE for an awesome example of Peter crowing, courtesy a face character at Disney!

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Looking-Glass Chess

The Looking-Glass world that Alice enters in Through the Looking-Glass (And What Alice Found There) is undoubtedly a creation from the logical mind of Charles Dodgson. It is described as having “a number of tiny little brooks running straight across it from side to side, and the ground between was divided up into squares by a number of little green hedges, that reached from brook to brook.” This description is obviously a chessboard, which is a theme throughout the story. Alice encounters all of the pieces in the chess game that help her, a pawn, to reach the other side of the board and become a queen herself within 11 moves.

Being a thorough man, Dodgson included a picture of the chessboard in the Looking-Glass world of the moves that are made in the story in the exact order they take place.

Looking-Glass Chess


Alice begins her journey upon meeting the Red Queen at the forefront of the white piece’s side of the chessboard, who then allows her to be a pawn for the white team. The Red Queen tells Alice, “you’re in the Second Square to begin with: when you get to the Eighth Square you’ll be a Queen.” In the above picture we can see Alice begins as a pawn in the second square for move number one. Next, Alice “ran down the hill and jumped over the first of the six little brooks,” which puts her in the Third Square. After this sentence, we see three rows of asterisks, which are used throughout the story to signify that Alice has moved into the next square.

Alice then rides an unusual railway that jumps across a brook, sending Alice into the Fourth square, which is the home of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. After their discourse and poems she meets the White Queen, and she follows after her across a brook, which takes her into the Fifth Square. To her astonishment, the queen becomes a sheep, and the surroundings become a small shop of goods. She suddenly realizes she’s on a boat and rows through this square. At the end, she’s in the small shop again and she jumps across a small brook in the shop into the Sixth Square.

In the Sixth Square, Alice has a pedantic lesson with Humpty Dumpty, who teaches her the imaginative aspect of language. Leaving him, she meets the White King and his soldiers and encounter a problem regarding Plum Pudding and a group of strange animals. After leaving the Lion and Unicorn behind, Alice enters the the Seventh Square.

In the Seventh Square,  Alice is almost taken by the Red Knight. However, The White Knight comes to her aid, takes the Red Knight, and accompanies Alice to the edge of the Eight Square.

At this point, Alice jumps across the final brook and suddenly is crowned a queen. This is not the end of the game though.

Alice then attends her own coronation dinner. The Red Queen and all other attendants aggravate Alice to the point where she throws a tantrum. In her fury, Alice grabs the Red Queen and shakes her, taking the piece and winning the game.

Thus, in eleven total moves, Alice moves across the chessboard as a pawn and becomes a queen. She then takes the Red Queen and wins the game. The only issue, which even Dodgson confesses, is that the sides take their turns out of order. However, the actual moves can be mapped out and recorded as Alice journeys across the Looking-Glass world. Such a complex scheme truly proves Dodgson to be a logic-loving and mathematical genius because one can read this novel through the distant view of a chessboard.


Pinocchio: Collodi’s Guide to a Unified Italy

The author of The Adventures of Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi, was an Italian soldier who fought in the War for Unification for 1870. After Italy was established as a singular political nation, Collodi strived to connect the people culturally, too. The Adventures of Pinocchio provides examples of how Collodi instructs his readers on how to unify the country. Some key aspects of bringing together a people are education and hard work. Each of these ideas plays a central role in the novel and provides a background on how Collodi wants to consolidate the Italian people.


The importance of education is present throughout Pinocchio. At the time when the book was written, only privileged Italian children attended schooling. However, when the War was ended, public education was established. Collodi fought for this right and believed that education for all was necessary to unify the nation. In the novel, the importance of going to school is very prevalent. Pinocchio, like many children, does not want to study; he would rather eat and play all day. Each of Pinocchio’s parental figures, the cricket, Geppetto, and the fairy, stress the need for children to receive an education. Finally, after many trials and tribulations, Pinocchio learns to read and write on his own and eventually becomes a good little boy. In my opinion, the continuous appearance of education is Collodi’s way of guiding Italy towards unification.


Another idea that is discussed throughout the book is the notion of hard work and success. The fairy warns Pinocchio, “Remember that every man, rich or poor, must find something to do in this world; everybody must work. Woe to those who lead idle lives! Idleness is a dreadful disease.” (p. 148) If a nation is to be successful, its citizens must be willing to work hard and make a living. Collodi understands that Italy cannot prosper unless people earn money and bolster the economy. Throughout the course of the story, Pinocchio repeatedly refuses to do work. In each instance, he remains hungry and weak. After finally seeing the light, Pinocchio devotes his life to physical labor in order to provide the basic needs to Geppetto and himself. As a result of his hard work, he is greatly rewarded. Like public education, Collodi uses the notion of hard work to show the Italian people how to become a successful nation.

This site also discusses the importance of education to Collodi and its presence in his novel.

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